Former Uber Technologies Inc. CEO Travis Kalanick indicated recently that the company may allow personal laptops at work. One device that potentially made it inside Uber’s campus came from self-driving car engineer Anthony Levandowski, whose digital files are currently at the center of Uber’s dispute over driverless car technology with Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Waymo.
Uber is not the first and it certainly won’t be the last company to have personal devices in the office. It’s a growing trend that’s all but impossible to fight, according to in-house lawyers, making it all the more important to protect against the risks.
Kalanick’s revelation came in a July 27 deposition, released earlier this month in the company’s lawsuit with Waymo. Asked whether he knew that Levandowski took a personal laptop to work, Kalanick said he was not aware of this because he’s “not in the weeds of that kind of stuff.” The ex-CEO went on to say he doesn’t believe it’s prohibited to bring personal laptops to work—”maybe it happens with some employees”—but it’s not “a normal thing.”
Uber did not immediately respond to request for comment on the company’s policy around personal devices, but it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if the ride-hailing giant does allow their use.
It’s pretty much the “new normal” that people have personal devices with them at work and, to some extent, that they are encouraged by companies to bring them, said Sterling Miller, general counsel at marketing automation software company Marketo Inc.
“As a general counsel, I would say it is a risky place to be,” Miller said. “But I think there’s probably no turning back from the tide and rather than trying to fight it … I think you just need to accept that this is the way it’s going to be and do what you can to minimize the risks.”
The risks, Miller said, range from an inability to quickly wipe personal devices when people leave the company, to devices that don’t have the same firewall and anti-virus protections in place as those that are company-issued, which can open the company up to an intrusion.
And then there are wage-and-hour issues, Miller said. “How am I tracking my time if I’m an hourly employee and I’m using a personal device?” he questioned. “That’s a real problem that usually only becomes known when there’s an issue,” he said.
Where personal device use is concerned, the typical scenario is that employees bring their own smartphones and perhaps tablets, but employees aren’t, for the most part, bringing their own laptops to work, said Josh King, chief legal officer of online legal marketplace Avvo Inc. But no matter the devices used, he added, there are certainly additional considerations for in-house counsel.
King offered employee relations issues as an example. He said in a workforce where employees can share media “seamlessly and simply,” it can open up “all sorts of frontiers,” allowing workers to share inappropriate images, for instance.
To mitigate the risks, legal departments should have a hand in drafting personal device policies, outlining, for example, what types of passwords are required, how frequently to change them and probably most importantly—”the wipe clean policy,” Miller said.
According to Miller, policies need to be very clear on the fact that personal devices that touch company systems are subject to company monitoring and could get turned over in litigation. “And then lastly, you have got to have a clear statement around the wage-and-hour issue,” he said.
And then companies have to not only ensure employees are trained on what expectations are, but also need to put in place certain physical tools when necessary, King said. If you have a policy against downloading work documents and taking them home, for example, “you need to create the physical tools in your networks that prevent people from doing that,” he said.
King likened the use of personal devices in the workplace to when the use of email was becoming popular in the ’90s. There was a lot of discussion in the legal profession about how risky it was and then “someone flipped a switch and you couldn’t worry about it anymore,” he explained. “As a profession, we just had to adapt to that and understand that this was a form of heightened insecurity.”
“I feel like there’s a lot of similarities with bring you own devices, as well,” King said. “We can try to fight it, we can try to put procedures in place, but we’re not going to stop it.”